Friday, March 11, 2016

warm up routine?? (part ii)

Back when I first started blogging in August 2014, I sought to leverage all the experience and knowledge within this wonderful little community by asking how everyone goes about their warm up routine.

outdoor riding pics are comin back!
The feedback was awesome and I got a lot of really great ideas for experimentation. It was particularly interesting how varied everyone's different approaches were. And, in retrospect, my own warm up process has evolved considerably since then too, for a few reasons.

First and foremost: the passage of time. We have been attempting to approach something resembling 'dressage' for just under two years now. And FINALLY I feel like we have very real moments. Like it's happening - we're not just faking or playing 'dress up.'

Other reasons for the shift include changing trainers (we <3 dressage trainer C!) and growing stronger as a team through experience and miles, learning what works better on any given day.

So what does my warm up look like these days?

walking ftw
Generally, when possible, we free walk on the buckle for at least 5 minutes, usually closer to 10. Occasionally up to 20 (time permitting) if I think Isabel is tense or cold backed. There is a very real difference in her back after 20 min too. She will swing and stretch down, and is less likely to resist when I pick my reins up.

This also provides the perfect opportunity for me to assess myself.

  • Where is my seat? Are my legs already clamped in a death grip on Isabel's sides, or are they loose and mobile? 
  • Can I take my entire leg from hip to heel off the saddle completely, feeling my seat really come into contact with Isabel's back, but still push my big toe into the stirrup? 
  • What's my torso doing - are my shoulders slumping or am I tall and open through my core and chest?
  • Am I looking up? Am I carrying tension anywhere? Do I need to loosen up my arms and shoulders a bit? 

Etc etc, you get the picture. 

Next is typically the first snag in our warm up: picking up the contact at the walk. Still haven't figured out how to do this consistently without Isabel bracing against my hand and dropping her back. We're working on it tho. Experimentation is the name of the game!

starting on that trot
Once she's soft to my hand in a good working walk - tracking up but not over-tracking - we'll go into trot. This first transition is still usually hollow. I don't fuss much with it, but will take more care with transitions later on in the ride. 

Then: we trot trot trot! Starting with circles usually, then going large, then a diagonal and repeat in the other direction. Start some shallow leg yielding, perhaps a serpentine or two. Another change (or four) of directions. See which side is stiffer than the other. 

This initial portion of trotting is intended to be ridden a little deeper than how I'll finish the ride, and we may even try for a bit of stretchy trot, depending on how Izzy feels. If she's a little tense and against my hand, probably I'll save the stretch for later in the ride, maybe the end.

mare means business about that canter haha
When I feel pretty good about the trot we'll move right into canter. Typically one circle, then maybe a long side or full lap large around the ring. Change directions and repeat. My goal for this first bit of canter is to soften Isabel's back. So it's typically very straight forward, as we'll usually revisit the gait later in the ride.

Then a walk break, concluding the warm up phase before moving on to the 'meat' of the ride. 

If things have gone well up to this point, I might be thinking about what movements/figures we want to practice, or which gait I want to work in. Since it's been warm and Isabel hasn't let her winter coat go yet, I've been focusing on either trot or canter rather than both. 

If things have been kinda iffy or gross, then we'll just keep doing more of the same lol. Generally, tho, that's how we will spend the first 15-25 minutes of a typical dressage school. 

trail riding is also an option when things are otherwise crappy haha
The craziest thing to me is that this current warm up looks an awful lot like an entire ride from two years ago haha. And sometimes that's really kinda all we achieve. Especially bc sometimes I run out of ideas. Like, huh, ok, horse is good. I guess we're done here? 

Lately tho, there's always more to practice. Maybe lengthenings. Canter trot transitions. Or sitting the trot. Longer leg yields. Halts. Smaller circles. Shoulder in (gasp!). Still perhaps pretty basic stuff, but it's fun to start growing a little tool kit for different things to try haha. 

But anyways, since I'm getting the distinct impression that our 'typical' warm up will always be constantly evolving, I want to ask the audience again: How do YOU usually plan out your warm ups? Or do you even usually have a plan? Are there certain signs you look for in your horse that indicate he's ready for heavier work? Or that he needs more warm up? 

isabel wants you to teach me all your secrets to be a better rider lol
Really I'm just super curious! So please - tell me all about it, either in the comments or maybe in your own post?  

33 comments:

  1. On a horse like that I do my warm up walk, then to go a trot on the buckle or with enough contact to avoid hitting anything until the horse is warmed up. Then I pick up contact at the trot, work that for a few, then go to the walk and work the contact at the walk. The forward motion of the trot helps establish the contact without dropping the back or getting behind the leg. In the future she will be ready for walk contact at the start.

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    1. yup that sounds a lot like my earlier routines (the link at the top of this post leads to written details)

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  2. It is horse dependent for me and it depends on the day. Pongo typically gets walk a couple laps (we have a bit of a walk up to the ring) then we trot both directions. I remind him to get off my left leg. We canter and I typically send him a little big to loosen up his back and get him in front of my leg. The canter is key to loosening him up. Then come back to the trot play with lateral things to see where he is sticky. Then walk for a minute so I can catch my breath. This typically shows where he is bracing and I'll do so specific exercises to get him to release and be soft and supple. It sounds like a lot but it's about 10-15 min total.

    Stinker is quite different. He is just doing walk trot, so I don't have as much of a set warmup. It is more of a push some buttons to see what horse I'm on. We start off in the walk and I try to feel what his anxiety level is. I test how well he wants to bend left and right, if he feels tired/sore, and how crooked he is. Then I start with the straightness (directly relates to bend) and this tells me how much he is willing to let me maneuver his body (depends on the day). Good days we progress to the trot. Bad days I focus on getting him to relax and let me touch him with my legs and get an appropriate response. Our whole ride is kind of a warm up in some ways since it is really focusing on the basics and there aren't set movements I'm working on. It's basically all about getting him straight and soft.

    Novel over. Sorry :)

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    1. ha no apologies needed - i'm just super curious about what everyone does! esp given that i'm only really riding one horse, it always kinda amazes me how each individual horse has their own specific needs (even tho, duh emma lol). Pongo actually sounds a little bit like Bali (on Bali's better days haha)

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  3. I love how you do a mental body check because I do that too! I think us riders are more self aware than most people (one of the reasons I'm so good at OLY lifts in CF) but it still is helpful to do am mental assessment before getting into the meat of the ride.
    For us, it depends on the season. Winter consists of approx 23 min of lunging or an hour, whatever. However snazzy B is feeling that day. Then we snort around the arena for an undetermined amount of time until he settles.
    In spring (aka now) we walk for about 10 minutes while I jam out to my tunes, and then trot around each direction, stretchy. Then we canter each direction once or twice before we get to work. Simple.
    In summer its basically 5 minutes and we are warm and loose and get to work before we die of heat exhaustion

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    1. omg the mental body check is so important for me these days, and definitely makes a big difference in the quality of my ride. who woulda thunk lol, getting myself correct will help my horse go correct too! haha...

      also it's kinda incredible how the horses change by season... isabel isn't really as 'snazzy' as B, or at least not in the same ways, but she definitely needs more time in winter (usually just walking for EVER tho lol)

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  4. Oohhh this is going to have to be an entire post for me! My warm up definitely changes all the time because of my speshul snowflake and his lack of work ethic...

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    1. ooooh yessssss do play along!!!

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  5. For me my warm up is a little trail ride ;) Since I don't have an arena I have to hack to the field that I ride in and it's about a 5-10 minute walk away. I usually try to have a nice relaxed walk on the buckle just letting Chimi loosen up and stretch. Once we get to the field I pick up a light contact and get him to stretch out as much as he's comfortable in the trot before I start to collect up my reins to more dressage length. From there I just do whatever I feel like I need. I feel like I don't really have a plan, I just do whatever. And warmup just melts into our working part. Our dressage has been kinda boring as of late so I tend to go on more trail rides and strengthening rides vs. specific flat hacks. I'm trying to build up Chimi's booty and I've noticed a significant difference in our more recent dressage test! Hopefully I'll get around to writing the post about it haha! But love this topic and interested in reading other people's comments!

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    1. kicking things off with a light trail ride / hack to the riding area sounds pretty idyllic to me. i think my horse would love that too. perhaps when the clocks change i'll try to hack around a little bit before getting to work myself?

      anyway tho, i also kinda love the idea of the warm up melting into the ride itself. that's very much been my approach for a long time, and am only now finding that our warm up is becoming more structured. mostly bc there are specific things i want to practice that need to be worked up to, so i'm trying to be strategic about how we prepare ourselves for the work etc etc. it's all so interesting to think about!!

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  6. I don't have much of a warm up plan, but I totally agree with running out of ideas sometimes. Like I was going to work on "this" but "this" isn't broken today so I guess we should go on a trail ride??

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    1. ha yup i definitely know that feeling too! or often i'll actually forget what i had wanted to practice in the ride lol... i'm trying to get more disciplined about it tho. and even if nothing in the isabel needs work, then maybe i'll try to focus on improving the rider haha (always a worthy effort...)

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  7. Our warm up actually looks a lot like yours. The only difference is that in our canter work, I'll usually stand up in my stirrups for about half a lap to let Val just relax at the canter, and then we'll really get to work from there. Once we've cantered I lose his brain a little (something we're always working on) so depending on how he is that day, we might just do most of our hard work in the canter and then work on relaxing again in our trot work. Sometimes it helps to go back to the walk and do a bunch of lateral moves, and then we can work more in each gait. Really we kind of have to play by ear, but our warm up is generally like yours. Taking our time and doing lots of bending and starting to move off of the leg.

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    1. makes a lot of sense. we've struggled with losing the brain after a canter too, which is part of why i introduce a light low key version early in the ride, and then go back to other things. she's figured out over time that canter once doesn't equal canter always lol.

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  8. My warm up totally depends on the pony that I'm riding that day. If I have "I'm Here To Work" Violet, then we do some lateral work at the walk and trot to get her engaged and into the outside hand, with lots of transitions and changes in direction. If I get "Screw You, I Don't Wanna" Violet, then we do even MORE transitions and lateral work. For her, she really requires you to keep it changing all the time. She's just smart enough to figure out what you want before you do, and will try to tell you you are wrong, so it's always a better idea to keep her guessing. And I hardly ever start out on the buckle. She takes advantage of that.

    A small thing we have been working on lately is the transition from free walk to more collected walk. The way I have to do it to keep her from bracing against me is to take the inside up as a supple aid. So supple as I shorten the rein, then connect with the outside as I shorten that one. I'm not sure if I'm explaining it right, but it seems to work for her. And it's something I need to cover when going over my next lesson update, lol. It's amazing what I remember and forget at the same time.

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    1. ha i might happen to also know a mare who likes to think she knows better than i do too ;) interesting that she can't really go on the buckle tho

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  9. It looks like you're riding without stirrups in the top photo, so I'm just going to believe that you are and thus that you are a riding genius because that trot looks hella hard to sit. :)

    We warm up at the walk. Not too long w/o contact. I like to start picking up contact and asking for straightness and better balance pretty fast (that's changed as we've gone up the levels). I do a lot of work in the walk: leg yields, turns on haunches, shoulder in, traver, renver, half halts, collection, extention. You name it, we probably touch it a little in the walk. Then, I collect up the walk a lot and get really good contact and ask to trot off into a posting trot. I ask that this transition be good (prompt, forward, no head flinging, stepping into not pulling into -- these requirements have also changed as we've improved). We do a few 20 meter circles at the posting trot first. I ask for a constant connection; a low neck carriage; impulsion, but not quickness; body bend and alignment. Then I ask for more roundness, more suspension, more push-- a bigger gait. We'll come off the circle and I'll bring his head up some. We do some work on the long sides to get straightness, and the shoulders loosened up: shoulder in, traver, half halts. Then we change direction and go low and super round, again asking for more push and alignment and connection.

    At this point I start asking him to execute some sweeping changes of direction in balance and without losing his brain. That's where I start figuring out what kind of ride we are going to have that day, and what needs work (half halts? balance? straightness? body bend?).

    Sometimes I'll bring his head up at this point and get straight to work in the trot. Sometimes, if his back is tight, I'll canter a minute or 3 in both directions before sitting the trot and getting to work. Things start to vary a lot at this point, but that start is pretty much always the same.

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    1. lolz black composite stirrups making me look better than i am = winning!!

      it's also super interesting to me that you do so much work at the walk too, tho i suspect that's a function of where you and Pig are in training v us. i'm a little too likely to get isabel moving backwards and flustered if we stay too long at a working walk early in the ride.

      it's interesting tho - some of the things you focus on are not really practical for us at present (like insisting that the first trot transition is great, bc... there lies some fights for us haha) but i can see how we will continue to move in that direction!

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    2. True, but some parts can be universal. Like ensuring that the transition is a push, not a pull. You're there already. And if she pops her head to push, no big deal right now. Just remind her to put it down with the next step. You know?

      The walk is just about the only place I can always put a lot of pressure on Pig without him wigging out. So, that's part of the reason we stay there so long. I get him thinking about everything while we're in a safe place. ;)

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    3. right - exactly, the head popping is not my concern to start off with so long as the transition is pushing. we circle back and work on it later in the ride. and it's so funny that his safe place is so different from isabel's! she really feels more comfortable when her feet are MOVING lol

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  10. I'm definitely a believer in warm ups evolving over time and evolving for each horse since all that stuff is relative to what the horse needs that day and its level of fitness and training :)

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    1. yup pretty much. i definitely like seeing how it changes over time too (obvi, since i keep writing down whatever my 'current' warm up looks like lol)

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  11. A timely post! Honestly I usually only ride in lessons because we don't get along terribly well on the flat and I appreciate having the instruction to keep us both focused. Today it happened that I was hacking alone and once again, came away feeling unfulfilled. I think if I went into these rides with a plan of what exercises I want to achieve they would be more beneficial!

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    1. ugh i definitely know what you mean about feeling 'unfulfilled' by the flat work. we spent many many months there, esp bc i kinda distrust myself and my decision making during flat rides. at least with jumping, it's easy to say "hey we made it over the fence, yippee!' or 'oops, better try that again.' flat work tho... it's def harder for me. going in with specific plans or ideas has helped tho!

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  12. My warm up is constantly changing. I used to warm him up with a big loose trot on the buckle and let him just stretch and loosen up. Now we work on bending and suppling at the walk before we move to trot, and then bending and suppling at the trot. There was a time when I cantered after a couple minutes of trotting because it was the only way I could get him to take the contact. I usually don't keep the same warm-up routine for more than a month because our needs change. Like you, I find the longer I walk, the better. So we usually walk 10-20 minutes, unless the walk gets stiff or braced, and then I go up to trot to get him moving.

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    1. interesting - i think some of our approaches have been very similar!

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  13. Mine has changed over time too...I've been told not to warm up on the buckle anymore (which I'm quite fond of). Instead, it's checking in at the walk with spirals, walking turn on the forehand, squares, haunches in/out, then moving up to trot when she feels loose and obedient.

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    1. yea we got told to get off the buckle bandwagon too, especially for any gaits other than walk. tho i'm stickin to my long free walks just bc they very clearly work for my mare both physically and mentally (esp on the loose and obedient front haha!).

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  14. I use a lot of lateral work, even at the walk to make sure I've got Alex's attention and LOTS of stretching.

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  15. I use a lot of lateral work, even at the walk to make sure I've got Alex's attention and LOTS of stretching.

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  16. With Annie our warmup is ever evolving. It usually starts with long and low walking then we incorporate some loose trotting with transitions. I like to canter loosely as well. With her its day by day :)

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  17. I definitely agree that warm ups are a constantly evolving thing! One thing that always is constant though, is walk walk walk first!

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  18. If Ries is relaxed we do a few laps of walk on the buckle before we move into more serious walk work. If he is tense we immediately switch to trot. We trot to be forward, straight, and on the aids. When we have accomplished this (and the transition will tell) we will add in a canter transition. We focus on the canter being forward, balanced, and straight. Then we move forward by either stretchy trot day or whatever bag of tricks. If we end on a tense note I tend to end with stretchy trot to relax.

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